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| 3 July 2021 | 0 Comments

How to prepare for business continuity

Black, White and Grey – Business Continuity Preparedness and Planning

Living with COVID-19

How to prepare for business continuity? “Pivot”, “business continuity”, “pandemic”, “resilience” – these words have become part of our vernacular for almost 16 months to the date of the announcement in March 2020 by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that there is a new global pandemic – COVID-19. We have, and continue to experience and observe national (and international) lockdowns, border closures, and stringent public health restrictions to curb the spread of the disease.

WHO Banner on COVID-19

We have also witnessed the largest work from home mobilization in history – companies have pivoted to remote work operations to remain relevant, entrepreneurs have shifted and changed their business objectives and services, and some have had no choice but to scale back on operations, or completely shut down. The impact of this pandemic also had (and continues to have) grave socioeconomic impacts all round.

The Black Swan Event

Regardless of the outcome, three things appeared to be abundantly clear during the evolution of the pandemic and its consequences – some preparations were already in place, businesses were trying to put things in place on the go, or nothing was in place at all (and this is not unique to Trinidad and Tobago). Initially the pandemic was called a “black swan event” in reference to the analogy which has its ties to the Roman era. The world previously had one perception of swans – they were all white, until a species of black swans indigenous to Australia was discovered. Therefore, to describe something as a black swan was to describe it as rare, strange, and unexpected – the same description given to this pandemic. But was it really?

Black swan
Nassim Taleb

In his 2007 best-selling book, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, author and Distinguished Professor of Risk Engineering at New York University Nassim Taleb states: “As we travel more on this planet, epidemics will be more acute – we will have a germ population dominated by a few numbers, and the successful killer will spread vastly more effectively. I see the risks of a very strange acute virus spreading throughout the planet.”
The White Swan Event

The COVID-19 pandemic is not a black swan event, but a white swan event – Taleb himself stated in interviews that the spread of the pandemic could have been stopped in the early stages, and organisations had no excuse to be unprepared. Taleb further stated in an essay in the German paper Neue Zürcher Zeitung, “A global pandemic is clearly a white swan – an event that is certain to occur at some point. Such pandemics are inevitable, they come as a result of the structure of the modern world; and their economic consequences will be even more serious as a result of increasing interconnectedness and exaggerated optimization.”

This thinking can lead organisations to preparing for White (and Black) swan events and to consider these crises as opportunities. The late US President John F. Kennedy said the Chinese character for “crisis” comprised of two brush strokes – one for danger and the other for opportunity, and as such one must be aware of the danger however prepare for the opportunities that arise from the situation.

Serenon Group's image of a black swan, rhino and tag line

How To Prepare for Business Continuity?

The COVID-19 pandemic created a wealth of opportunities for governments and organisations to develop and implement robust strategies which allow for the preparation, detection and mitigation of known but poorly managed risks. A bulk of this preparation lies in investing in suitable and adequate business continuity planning.

Invest in detailed Business Impact Analyses – these enable organisations to identify critical roles and functions that are required to support the business operations, or enable them to continue in the likelihood of an impact. Organisations must be able to identify and plan alternate operational arrangements or strategies in order to navigate future events. Training and capacity building is key in executing the preparedness strategies. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the fragility of global supply chain and corresponding logistic support – organisations must consider the global impact to product and service lines and seamlessly enable them to respond to market impacts. The technological aspect can never be understated. Organisations must analyse current technological capabilities and assess current performance to that within crises – is it suitable? Is it functional? Is it seamless? Are any alternatives required for additional support?

  • Business Impact Analysis
  • Alternative Operational Arrangements
  • Training and Capacity Building
  • Consideration to Fragility of Supply Chain and Logistics
  • Technology Capabilites
Grey Rhino Pragmatism

Part of the preparation should also involve a shift away from analysing crises as literal black and white swan events. Michelle Wucker, author of The Gray Rhino: How to Act and Recognize the Obvious Dangers We Ignore stated “To face the looming risks of 2021, we must replace black-swan fatalism with grey-rhino constructive pragmatism.” This means that organisations (and governments alike) must shift into total accountability, exploring new opportunities, investment in clean technologies and focusing on reducing inequalities. By considering any potential threat as a “grey rhinoceros” this will give policy makers and planners the opportunities to focus on the obvious while activating appropriate levels of response. 

Photo of Michele Wucker thegrayrhino-3D-cover

Another pandemic or global crisis can be right around the corner – are you prepared to manage its impacts to your organisation?


This article (How to prepare for business continuity) was written by Marise K. Johncilla, Principal Consultant and Director at The Serenon Group. The Serenon Group is an Occupational Safety and Health and Business Continuity Planning Consulting firm based in Trinidad and Tobago.


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